Strikes hit colleges' enrolment week
Members of the lecturers' union NATFHE in up to 21 colleges have been taking action over three days this week, and plan similar walk-outs next week in the long-running dispute over new contracts.
The action is designed to cause maximum disruption both to enrolments and to college finances by delaying the processing of students' tuition fees.
But its impact, predictably, has been dismissed by the Colleges' Employers' Forum, which remains at loggerheads with the union over contracts.
Chief executive Roger Ward insisted "every college in the land bar none" had taken precautions to protect student registration.
In four Midlands colleges, strikes were averted at the eleventh hour as employers and union members agreed contracts in the run-up to the new term. Meanwhile, colleges face the prospect of further industrial action later this term as NATFHE prepares to ballot members over its call for a return to national pay scales.
Members will vote towards the end of this month, and strike action is expected to follow early in November.
While the enrolment week action - centred mainly on colleges in the West Midlands and Wales - reflects continuing conflict over contracts, figures released this week reveal a quarter of colleges have now made local deals with NATFHE members.
Settlements have been hammered out in 70 colleges, including many of the larger urban institutions, with at least one-third of lecturers nationally now working under local agreements, according to the union. Latest to come into the fold are Shrewsbury, Handsworth, Dudley and Walsall colleges, where agreements were reached on the eve of planned strikes.
NATFHE, in dispute with the Colleges' Employers' Forum for two years over attempts to bring in "flexible" new contracts which increase working hours and cut holidays, is hailing the development as a "sea-change".
Deals vary according to local requirements, but the union claims it has managed in all cases to secure improved terms compared with the original CEF contract, attacked by lecturers from the outset as open-ended.
According to Mr Ward, the third of colleges making local deals have taken CEF advice to introduce modifications to the forum's original model "to suit the corporations' interests".